South Korean Constitutional Court will Take tome Over Park Geun Hye Impeachment

David Lee, Dec. 13, 2016, 8:34 a.m.


The Constitutional Court on Monday poured cold water on hopes that it will arrive at a swift decision on the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye after the National Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor. Constitutional Court spokesman Bae Bo-yoon told reporters, "An impeachment case requires the review of all of the issues being claimed by the parties concerned. It is impossible to review only select issues as some are proposing."

Bae made it clear that the court must consider the constitutionality of the entire bill. "Calls by some people that a ruling should be made quickly based on key issues are tantamount to holding a trial with the conclusion already in mind," he said. "We cannot proceed with the case with prejudices." Asked if the procedure will take a long time, he said, "There is no change in our stance that the case must be handled expeditiously."

Only eight of the nine judges, most of them conservatives and appointed by Park, met for their first discussion of the case on Monday morning, They agreed to hold one or two days of hearings prior to the proceedings proper to establish the main points of contention between the president and the National Assembly. The ninth is on an official overseas trip.

The last time the court was asked to rule on an impeachment motion, in 2004, there were no preliminary hearings. "There are many more people and issues involved in this case compared to 2004," a court official said. "We must narrow the disagreements between the two sides involving witness selection so that the case can proceed expeditiously." The impeachment bill lawmakers handed over to the Constitutional Court on Friday charges Park with five counts of violating the Constitution and eight legal infractions, and names some 50 witnesses.

The bill mentions murky issues like the notorious "missing seven hours," when Park was nowhere to be found on the day the ferry Sewol sank in 2014 killing 304 people, which have not yet been properly investigated but are subject to intense rumors. In 2004, President Roh Moo-hyun was only accused of one offense -- taking sides in the general elections in violation of presidential neutrality -- and few witnesses had to be summoned. The court has 180 days to arrive at a ruling.

The court plans to appoint two or three judges to the impeachment case after Friday, which is the deadline by which Park must submit a written defense. It will also put together a 20-member expert panel to help with the case. Another 50 or so constitutional scholars will be assigned to the case. The court has asked the National Assembly and Justice Ministry to submit their opinions. Meanwhile, Park was unable to form a team of lawyers to defend her as of Monday. Most of the judges spent the entire day in court and worked late into the night reviewing documents.

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